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[Joachim_Blatter,_Helen_Ingram] Reflections on Water

[Joachim_Blatter,_Helen_Ingram] Reflections on Water



Reflections on Water

American and Comparative Environmental Policy
Sheldon Kamieniecki and Michael E. Kraft, editors

Russell J. Dalton, Paula Garb, Nicholas P. Lovrich, John C. Pierce,
and John M. Whiteley, Critical Masses: Citizens, Nuclear Weapons
Production, and Environmental Destruction in the United States and

Daniel A. Mazmanian and Michael E. Kraft, editors, Toward
Sustainable Communities: Transition and Transformations in
Environmental Policy

Elizabeth R. DeSombre, Domestic Sources of International
Environmental Policy: Industry, Environmentalists, and U.S. Power

Kate O’Neill, Waste Trading among Rich Nations: Building a New
Theory of Environmental Regulation

Joachim Blatter and Helen Ingram, editors, Reflections on Water: New
Approaches to Transboundary Conflicts and Cooperation

Reflections on Water

New Approaches to Transboundary Conflicts and

edited by Joachim Blatter and Helen Ingram

The MIT Press
Cambridge, Massachusetts
London, England

© 2001 Massachusetts Institute of Technology

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any
electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or informa-
tion storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher.

This book was set in Sabon by Asco Typesetters, Hong Kong, in QuarkXPress.
Printed and bound in the United States of America.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Reflections on water: new approaches to transboundary conflicts and
cooperation / edited by Joachim Blatter and Helen Ingram.

p. cm.—(American and comparative environmental policy)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-262-02487-X (hc.: alk. paper)—ISBN 0-262-52284-3 (pbk.: alk.
1. Water-supply—Management—International cooperation—Case studies.
2. Water rights—Case studies. 3. Conflict management—Case studies.
4. Environmental policy—International cooperation—Case studies. I. Blatter,
Joachim, 1966– II. Ingram, Helen M., 1937– III. Series.

TD345.R44 2001 00-056862

Dedicated in memory of Albert E. Utton, an inspiration for cross-
border cooperation


List of Tables ix
List of Figures xi
Foreword xiii
Preface xv
I Concepts and Meanings
1 Emerging Approaches to Comprehend Changing Global

Contexts 3
Joachim Blatter, Helen Ingram, and Pamela M. Doughman
2 Expanding Perspectives on Transboundary Water 31
Joachim Blatter, Helen Ingram, and Suzanne Lorton Levesque
II Case Studies
3 The Confluence of Water, Patterns of Settlement, and
Constructions of the Border in the Imperial and the Mexicali
Valleys (1900–1999) 57
María Rosa García-Acevedo
4 Lessons from Lake Constance: Ideas, Institutions, and Advocacy
Coalitions 89
Joachim Blatter
5 The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative: Reconstructing
Boundaries, Biodiversity, and Beliefs 123
Suzanne Lorton Levesque
6 Discursive Practices and Competing Discourses in the Governance
of Wild North American Pacific Salmon Resources 163
Kathleen M. Sullivan

viii Contents

7 Discourses and Water in the U.S.-Mexico Border Region 189
Pamela M. Doughman

8 A Hydroelectric Power Complex on Both Sides of a War: Potential
Weapon or Peace Incentive? 213
Paula Garb and John M. Whiteley

9 Black Sea Environmental Management: Prospects for New
Paradigms in Transitional Contexts 239
Joseph F. DiMento

10 Water as a Boundary: National Parks, Rivers, and the Politics of
Demarcation in Chimanimani, Zimbabwe 267
David McDermott Hughes

III Lessons for Theory, Research, and Governance

11 Perspectives from the Districts of Water and Power: A Report on
Flows 297
Richard Perry

12 Lessons from the Spaces of Unbound Water for Research and
Governance in a Glocalized World 321
Richard Perry, Joachim Blatter, and Helen Ingram

Contributors 341
Index 343


3.1 Population growth in the border: Baja California and California,

4.1 “Waves” of institution building in the “Euregio Bodensee” and
corresponding “breakthroughs” in motorboat regulation for Lake

4.2 Major cross-border institutions at Lake Constance (ordered by
type of institution and by relevance for the regulation of motor-
boats on Lake Constance)


1.1 Transformations of ontologies over time
2.1 Expanding the variety of scientific approaches
2.2 New contingencies in the meaning of water
2.3 Beyond legal approaches: The gravity of water
2.4 Beyond technical approaches: Diminishing control over water
2.5 Beyond economic approaches: The uniqueness of water
3.1 Nineteenth-century and modern Cocopa reserves
3.2 Contrasts in density of human settlements in Mexicali and Impe-

rial valleys
5.1 Yellowstone to Yukon area
8.1 Abkhazia
8.2 The Inguri complex
10.1 Chimanimani, Zimbabwe
10.2 Chimanimani National Park
10.3 “Ngorima TTL” (Reservation) 1976
10.4 Vhimba
10.5 1894 cadastral map
10.6 Ngorima Reservation
10.7 Rusita Botanical Reserve and Nyakawa (sacred forest)


This is the fifth volume published in our MIT Press book series American
and Comparative Environmental Policy. Reflections on Water represents
a major interdisciplinary and collaborative effort to advance our under-
standing of one of the most basic requisites for life on the planet, access
to fresh water. The book offers eight diverse and intriguing case studies
from around the world to illustrate new approaches to understanding
water resource issues, particularly in transboundary settings. The editors
and contributors focus on the multiple meanings of water and the effects
of such perspectives on policymaking through network analysis, dis-
course analysis, historical and ethnographic analysis, and the lenses of
social ecology. In combination, these approaches lead to a rich under-
standing of the multiplicity of forces affecting conflicts over transbound-
ary water resources. Such knowledge can substantially enhance the
capacity of citizens and policymakers to forge public policies grounded
in sustainable development, which itself seeks ambitiously to integrate
environmental, economic, and social goals and values.

At a time when water scarcity is increasing around the world and
approaching crisis conditions in many regions, this book’s emphasis on
developing integrative and interdisciplinary approaches to studying
water resources and conflicts is most valuable. The authors do not seek
to replace more conventional approaches to water resources and man-
agement but rather to supplement the considerable knowledge we have
gained from engineering, economics, and legal analysis. They hope to
provoke scholars and decision makers in the international water com-
munity to reconceptualize water and its management by giving greater
emphasis to social and cultural issues. The presentation of this argument

xiv Foreword

through elaborate case studies illustrates well the potential of this new
scholarship to assist citizens and decision makers in dealing with not
only water resources but other complex environmental challenges as
well. For the skeptics, the book includes both an introduction that places
the new approaches and methods within the context of changing global
needs and expectations and a final chapter that underscores some of the
limitations of these approaches as well as continuing research needs.

Reflections on Water illustrates well the kind of works we will include
in the series. We intend to publish manuscripts that examine a broad
range of environmental policy issues. We are particularly interested in
books that focus on interdisciplinary research as well as on the links
between policy and environmental problems, issues, and controversies in
either American or cross-national settings. Future volumes will analyze
the policy dimensions of relationships between humans and the envi-
ronment from either an empirical or a theoretical perspective. The series
will include works that assess environmental policy successes and fail-
ures, evaluate new institutional arrangements and policy approaches, and
help clarify new directions for environmental policy. We plan to publish
high-quality scholarly studies that are written for a wide audience that
includes academics, policymakers, environmental scientists and profes-
sionals, business and labor leaders, environmentalists, and students con-
cerned with environmental issues. We hope that these books contribute
to people’s understanding of the most important environmental prob-
lems, issues, and policies that society now faces and with which it must
deal well into the twenty-first century.

Sheldon Kamieniecki, University of Southern California
Michael E. Kraft, University of Wisconsin–Green Bay
Series Editors


All life is touched by water, and humans as diverse as poets and military
strategists draw inspiration from it. How unfortunate, therefore, that
narrow perspectives and a limited range of disciplines dominate water
research. This book aims to liberate water from excessively rational and
utilitarian mindsets. Water has always had an emotional and symbolic
value for communities, and it increasingly provides impetus for the for-
mation of transnational networks and discourses. We explore here the
multiple meanings of water in a variety of transboundary settings in the
contemporary global context.

For an edited volume to transcend the frequent failings of uneven
contributions and lack of coherent focus, the book must emerge from a
common research endeavor. Such efforts take a great deal of time and
support. This project has a lengthy history and many contributors and
supporters, a number of whom are neither editors nor authors. Although
the genesis of the project extended even further back in time, the effort
to develop new approaches to transboundary water problems got a firm
start in a research conference at the Bellagio Study and Conference
Center, June 2–6, 1997. This exceptionally fruitful meeting was orches-
trated by the late Albert E. Utton, Director of the International Trans-
boundary Resources Center, to whom this book is dedicated. The
conference received funding from the Hewlitt and Ford Foundations as
well as the Rockefeller Foundation.

Grants from the University of California Institute on Global Peace and
Cooperation and the University of California at Irvine Global Peace
and Cooperation Studies funded the majority of the research, travel, and
translation. The Focused Research Group on International Environment

xvi Preface

in the School of Social Ecology at the University of California, Irvine
provided a continuing forum for intellectual discussion of the project.
The editors are particularly grateful to one member of the focused
research group, Richard Perry, whose wise counsel, excellent critiques,
and scholarly networks linked us with important ideas and chapter con-
tributors. María Rosa García-Acevedo wrote her chapter during a post-
doctoral year funded through the Sense of Place Project by the Ford

The book manuscript, once about double its present length, went
through multiple rounds of rewriting and editing. Pamela Doughman
and Suzanne Levesque helped mightily in manuscript preparation, work-
ing closely with Dianne Christianson in word processing. Helen Ingram
is particularly indebted to Michael Brewster, who coordinated the final
round of edits. The editors and authors are most grateful to Sheldon
Kamieniecki and Michael Kraft, the series editors whose insights led to
important improvements in the text; to the anonymous reviewers whose
criticisms were invaluable; and to Clay Morgan, the Acquisitions Editor
in Environmental Sciences at MIT Press.


Concepts and Meanings


Emerging Approaches to Comprehend
Changing Global Contexts

Joachim Blatter, Helen Ingram, and Pamela M. Doughman

Water can enlarge perception and challenge the mind. For instance, con-
sider the way objects on the floor of a pond seen through water appear
clear and sharp, their colors bright. At the same time, images reflected
from the surface of the pond can mirror perfectly the surrounding envi-
ronment of sky, clouds, vegetation, and the very eyes of the observer. Yet
water is more than a passive lens or looking glass. Water is an active
agent, changing all it touches. Water cuts canyons into the surface of the
earth, revealing the world’s most distant past. Water surges forward, cre-
ating new courses and possibilities yet to be appreciated by humans.

In spite of the transformational possibilities of water, water is usually
framed as a rather uninteresting issue and consigned to certain fixed, dis-
ciplinary frames for analysis. It is not that water is widely thought to be
unimportant. On the contrary, water is proclaimed to be the next global
crisis in the popular media and professional literature (Postel 1999).
Instead, its full potential as a subject for study is not being realized.

The purpose of this book is to unbind water from its present subject
matter constraints and to call attention to the ways water research can
reveal contemporary challenges to modes of governance and ways of
thinking. The focus here is upon transboundary water, which includes
border crossings of several types beyond those of political jurisdiction
that the term usually implies. New kinds of structures and relationships
are augmenting control over water through modern nation-states and
large bureaucratic structures. As we will argue later in this chapter, con-
temporary water is properly placed in a world of flows where influence
is streaming simultaneously toward global and local levels, while at
the same time nations retain significant influence pools. Other equally

4 Blatter, Ingram, and Doughman

significant and associated transitions are in progress. The hegemony of
modern conceptions of the world (the ontological basis of reasoning) and
of gathering information and providing proof (the epistemological basis
of scholarship) is being forced to make way. We point out the limitations
of instrumental rationality in capturing the meanings of water and the
shortcomings of modern science in improving our understanding of its
treatment in society. This book is meant to stimulate scholars in the
international water management community to think thoroughly about
the inadequacies of existing approaches and to entertain the possibilities
of the alternatives we explore.

In opening up the ontological basis for analyzing transboundary water
policy, we intend to complement rather than to supplant modern ap-
proaches. Having stressed this complementary role, we nevertheless real-
ize that our endeavor represents a direct challenge to modern scholarship
on a more abstract methodological level. Whereas modernist science in-
sists on testing explanatory approaches against each other, we propose a
complementary usage of approaches combining inductive and deductive
or hermeneutical and scientific approaches. We insist that the researcher
must first understand the meaning of water as it exists in a particular
local place or social context. Only then can the scholar apply specific
explanatory approaches. This priority given to understanding leads us to
propose specific methods that concentrate on the social construction of
meanings of water as well as that of identities and preferences of actors
and communities.

We do not recommend particular transmodern meanings of water as
being superior to modern meanings. Moreover, as we will argue in chap-
ter 2, modern meanings are probably less problematic with respect to
forging compromises across various political boundaries than are pre- or
postmodern meanings. However, we strongly criticize modern reduc-
tionist scholarship that neglects the prominence or even the existence of
meanings of water, which are beyond human control and rational calcu-
lation. The purpose of chapter 2 is to explore the full range of meanings
of water that need to be considered in studying transboundary water
issues. Before we can embark on that enterprise, it is first necessary to set
out the conceptual and contextual logic upon which we base our argu-
ment for exploring emerging approaches.

Emerging Approaches to Comprehend Changing Global Contexts 5

After briefly surveying the current debate about the divergent trans-
formational trends at the turn of the millennium, we assert that the
phrase “glocalization” (Robertson 1995)1 best encapsulates contempo-
rary trends. Subnational units have become unbounded or “disembed-
ded” from nation-states, spawning a plethora of new political entities,
mostly in the form of connections and networks, but occasionally in the
form of sovereign states. Thus the global and local levels are becoming
more directly interconnected. In consequence, the privileged position of
the national level as gatekeeper between the domestic and international
political arenas has diminished along with its dominance as a unit of ref-
erence for personal identity. We show the ways in which the current
transformations in the economic, social, and political spheres are chal-
lenging the territorially defined, sovereign nation-state.

We similarly question other cornerstones of the modernity project,
such as the belief in human rationality and human control. It is no coin-
cidence that when a challenge is made to the sovereign nation-state, con-
ceived as the hierarchical center responsible for steering and controlling
social and economic processes, the underlying ontology based on the
assumption of human control is also challenged, lessening its credibil-
ity. This leads us to develop a scheme that shows the transformation of
ontologies over time. The basic message is that the current time is char-
acterized by the puzzling phenomenon that different ontologies coexist,
with each claiming credibility: premodern ontologies, which are based
on the assumption of a single “objective world” to which mankind has
to adapt; modern ontologies putting the individual human onto center
stage; and postmodern ontologies proposing multiple realities con-
structed by social/cultural processes (see figure 1.1). This means to pro-
pose a “second-order relativity” that contains the paradoxical claim that
it makes sense to give credibility to approaches that conceive the world
as “objective,” leading to methods based on a strict “testing” logic for-
mulated by Karl Popper (Popper 1996), and at the same time to accept
approaches that claim that we can only “read,” “interpret,” and “con-
struct” the subjective world(s) of actors or groups of actors.

One important consequence of this conceptual cornerstone of this
book is that we propose a widening of the legitimate scientific ap-
proaches and methods employed in the study of transboundary water

6 Blatter, Ingram, and Doughman

policy. We argue that the modern legal, technical, and economic ap-
proaches employed in the study of transboundary water issues should be
complemented by approaches from the life sciences and the humanities.
As life sciences are already widely accepted and incorporated in the pro-
cesses of water policy, this book concentrates on approaches that prom-
ise to enhance the understanding of cultural influences on transboundary
water policy. A further, more fundamental reason to propose mainly
qualitative in-depth studies has already been mentioned: An understand-
ing of the meaning(s) of water held by the involved actors has to be the
first step in any investigation of cross-border water politics. Otherwise,
perceptions of and connections to water, which are not useful in the
modern sense, are systematically neglected. We are fully aware that this
argument is convincing only for scholars who accept that research is
never neutral, is always connected to society, and therefore has to be
critical and reflective.

Conceptual approaches applied in the case studies of this book, includ-
ing network analysis, discourse analysis, historical and ethnographic
case studies, and social ecology, will be briefly presented. The final part
of this chapter provides an overview of the case studies within this book,
which illustrate not only new approaches but also the multidisciplin-
ary, complementary, and collaborative kinds of research we believe are

Present Transformations toward a Glocalized World

At the end of the millennium, “globalization” has attained a prominence
within public discourse. Upon close examination, however, the current
processes might be better captured by the dialectic term “glocalization”
(Robertson 1995). Glocalization, a combined notion of globalization
and localization (Robertson 1998, 197), refers to the fact that the cur-
rent explosion of interterritorial linkages and communications is not just
a phenomenon of increased “horizontal” interaction, but also has to be
understood in its “vertical” dimension, characterized by direct mergers
of local and global processes.

What “glocalization” contributes is a recognition of the greater im-
portance of the local and global levels compared with the interposed

Emerging Approaches to Comprehend Changing Global Contexts 7

national level. Even more important is the shift of emphasis from units,
entities, or actors toward the flows, interactions, linkages, and bonds
among these units.

In the following paragraphs we will briefly delineate some of the most
important aspects of the process of glocalization in several dimensions,
starting with the most important economic sphere, followed by the social
and political spheres.

The globalization of the economy is driven by increasing international
trade, but even more so by the explosion of transnational financial trans-
actions. Facilitated, in 1947, by the negotiated agreements of the General
Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), international trade has grown
steadily since World War II. However, the most dramatic processes of
economic globalization have been triggered by the dematerialization and
symbolization of the economy.

The transformation toward a postindustrial economy is characterized
by the relative decline of the first two sectors of the economy (agriculture
and industrial production) in comparison to a third: trade and transport.
Provision of information and communication has displaced the produc-
tion of material goods as the primary economic activity in Organization
for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. As the
economy has shifted away from the material toward the symbolic, dereg-
ulation and new information technologies have created a global financial
system that has effectively debordered the world of nation-state control
(O’Brien 1992). Starting with the “Eurodollar market” in London in the
1960s, the world has witnessed an explosion of “offshore markets,” as
in the Bahamas, for example. Unencumbered by state control, these finan-
cial centers process $1 trillion in transactions daily, an amount roughly
equivalent to the annual gross domestic product (GDP) of France or dou-
ble the total currency reserves of all OECD states. Speculation accounts
for the overwhelming majority of these financial transactions; only 3–
4% are induced by material trade (Neyer 1996, 69).2

Whereas some observers interpret these trends toward a dematerial-
ized and globalized economy as “the end of geography” (O’Brien 1992),
many others remain skeptical. Proponents of “geopolitics” counter that
many conflicts revolve around natural resources, as evidenced within the
vast geographic area of the former Soviet Union. Localization matters

8 Blatter, Ingram, and Doughman

very much in the postindustrial economy (Krugman 1991). The centers
of the new information economy are concentrated within narrow dis-
tricts of a few global cities. The financial district in lower Manhattan is
an especially prominent example. Similarly, the most important com-
panies in the advertising industry are based in a single neighborhood in
London. Regional “clusters” of many corporations (e.g., Silicon Valley)
are common in many high-tech sectors, and the nurturing of such inno-
vative milieus has proven an indispensable strategy for regional eco-
nomic development (Krumbein et al. 1994; Storper and Harrison 1991;
Maillat et al. 1995). Management guru Kenichi Ohmae (1993) has
averred that the consequence of this new economic logic is “the rise of
the region state.”

Mutual exchange based on a utilitarian rationale is not the sole motive
that brings together people across the globe. Transnational interaction
and cooperation by social, nongovernmental actors can also be based on
shared values and beliefs. The number of international nongovernmental
organizations (INGOs) has exploded; as of 1999 there were just over
17,000 organizations like the World Council of Churches, Friends of the
Earth, the International Olympic Committee, and the International
Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (Union of Inter-
national Associations 1999–2000). Other prominent examples of new
global players united by shared values and beliefs are transnational non-
governmental organizations like Greenpeace and Amnesty International.

Some “nonterritorial communities” (Elkins 1995) are based less on
shared values and more on shared knowledge or shared interest in a spe-
cific theme. For example, the scientific communities of researchers and
journalists are groupings that are increasingly bound together on a trans-
national level through meetings and affiliations like the Association of
Environmental Journalists. These transnational networks of knowledge
creators and brokers are becoming more important in a world charac-
terized by enormous complexity and information overload. It is not cer-
tain, however, that these actors always play a positive role in terms of
accountability, as is sometimes assumed by research on “epistemic com-
munities” (Haas 1989, 1992).

Political actors have not merely reacted to these economic and social
currents; they have deliberately, or perhaps unwittingly, initiated and

Emerging Approaches to Comprehend Changing Global Contexts 9

institutionalized them (Neyer 1995; Kapstein 1994). Thus we have wit-
nessed the proliferation of international organizations and international
issue-based legal regimes since World War II. The roster of more than
3,000 international governmental organizations (IGOs) now dwarfs the
number of nation-states. Although most IGOs focus on economic or trade
issues, scholars have nonetheless identified more than 250 regional envi-
ronmental instruments created by 1992 (DiMento, this volume), repres-
senting virtually all regions.

Several characteristics of international regimes account for their trans-
formative nature. Most importantly, national members are bound by
decisions reached at the supranational level. Some regimes go further,
allowing member states or even individual citizens to seek redress in the
judicial arena or other forum for dispute resolution. Sanctions may be
levied against member states for noncompliance or other violations of
regional requirements.

This proliferation of political actors and institutions “above” the
nation-state is just one part of the overall picture. Many signs of frag-
mentation and decentralization of political power have accompanied the
movement toward globalization. Since World War II the number of
nation-states has more than doubled because of the collapse of empires:
Recall the last wave of sovereign states founded amid the rubble of the
Soviet Union (Waters 1995, 114). Even more important is a general
trend in almost all states toward decentralization and the empowerment
of the subnational, regional level during the last fifteen years. Multilevel
governance (Marks et al. 1995), federalism and confederal arrangements
(Elazar 1998), and subsidiarity are restructuring the architecture of gov-
ernance all over the world.

Paradoxically, at the same time as institutions and associations with
universal values, beliefs, and knowledge bases embrace globalization, we
are witnessing a resurgence of cultural, ethnic, and religious sectionalism
and particularism. The Islamic “jihad” and reference to “Asian values”
are two prominent examples of cultural resistance to the universalistic
or, as others argue, imperialistic claims of the West (Barber 1995).

This cultural particularism is apparent not just on a global scale but
within sovereign nation-states as well. Regionalism, provincialism, and
ethnic nationalism3 need not proceed as far as separatist movements in

10 Blatter, Ingram, and Doughman

Quebec or the Basque region to undermine the cohesion of the nation-
state and challenge the role of the central government as the sole actor
in the international and transboundary realms (Duchacek 1986).

It is not just that the locus of decision making is moving “upward”
and “downward” from the level of the nation-state. There are many new
links and alliances bypassing the central state, a situation Duchacek
dubbed “perforated sovereignty” (Duchacek 1986). Cities and other
subnational political units like states, Laender, provinces, and cantons
are “going global” in their attempts to attract investment and host major
events like the world fair EXPO (Michelmann and Soldatos 1990; Brown
and Fry 1993). Furthermore, subnational units have fought successfully
to have a voice in international affairs, formerly deemed an exclusive
domain of the central government. German Bundeslaender possess the
right to lead the German delegations in negotiations in Brussels in policy
fields that are their responsibility according to the national constitution.
This is just one example of a process Brian Hocking (1993) called the
“localizing of foreign policy.” All these various developments toward a
world of intermestic politics (Manning 1977) evince that nation-states
are “loosing” their hegemony as units of reference for identities, interest
aggregation, and loyalties, as well as their roles as gatekeepers in a “two-
level game” (Putnam 1988) between the international and the domestic
realm. The nation-state is far from disappearing from the scene, how-
ever. Decisions now involve many more actors, and the nation-state
often represents a veto point that can stall agreements or derail their

The most important consequence of the emergence of the glocalized
world, as compared to that of the modern era dominated by the reign
of nation-states, is the broader range of actors involved. Furthermore,
multiple, overlapping memberships between these new actors make dis-
tinguishing national affiliation more difficult. Surveying the divergent
interests of “American” multinational corporations and the American
state and people, Robert Reich (Reich et al. 1990) conceded the diffi-
culty of determining “who is us?” To understand a political conflict over
a transboundary watercourse, for example, it is no longer adequate to
model a bargaining game between the various riparian or littoral states

Emerging Approaches to Comprehend Changing Global Contexts 11

based on their national interests. The unfolding of the whole range of
involved actors, their identities, interests, and loyalties as well as the
linkages and alliances between these actors is essential for better under-
standing and explanation.

Further Transformations beyond Modernity

The sovereign nation-state is not the only aspect of the modern world
challenged by the present transformations. Other core elements of the
modernity project, such as basic assumptions about knowledge, are like-
wise confronted by new postmodern and renewed premodern concepts.
We will briefly delineate the different features of these elements in re-
spect to their ontology; point to their dominant expression in the fields
of technology, economy, law, and politics; and show their correspon-
dence to three different theoretical strands in the political science sub-
discipline of international relations.

Figure 1.1 shows the transformations of ontological bases over time.
Ontologies, basic assumptions about the world that guide our reasoning
and theory building, were first fundamentally transformed during the
Enlightenment, resulting in the liberation of mankind from the natural
and traditional environment. Within premodern thought humans were
considered an integral component of one objective real world. Fate was
determined by forces external to the individual, practically by the unfor-
giving natural environment and philosophically by the rigid doctrines of
religion. Human behavior was seen as a reaction and adaptation to these
external structures. Characteristics generally attributed to the premodern
era are craft as the dominant technical feature, subsistence economy,
recourse to “natural law” or to “religion” as normative guidelines, and
the monarchy (hierarchical direction from above) as the dominant politi-
cal concept.

In international relations theory, the realist school conceptualizes a
world system consistent with this ontology. State behavior is seen as
externally determined by the harsh, anarchic international environment.
Because all other actors are considered potential adversaries, states have
to act in a competitive manner. Accordingly, the relative-gains principle

12 Blatter, Ingram, and Doughman

Figure 1.1
Transformations of ontologies over time
governs diplomacy. States strike deals or participate in agreements only
when they stand to benefit more than the other side. Power is based on
physical (military) capabilities (Waltz 1986).

The onset of the modern era has fundamentally transformed ways of
living and thinking. The Enlightenment philosophically liberated the
human being from external determinism and furthermore reimagined the
individual as the center of the objective universe. “Agency” displaced
“structure” as the primary point of reference for conceptualizing the
world and constructing theories. Complementing the priority accorded
the individual, modern thought also celebrates the notions of self-
determination and human control of the natural environment. Thus soci-
ety has moved from adapting to natural imperatives to manipulating
natural resources with the help of industrial technology to produce use-
ful goods. This has resulted in new features of living and reasoning:
machines as the dominant technical feature, the industrial economy, the

Emerging Approaches to Comprehend Changing Global Contexts 13

emergence of universal principles based on human rights, and repre-
sentative democratic governance within territorially defined units (for-
mal hierarchy with “bottom-up” directions) as the dominant political

Modern reasoning corresponds to the liberal approach in interna-
tional relations theory (Moravscik 1997). This approach privileges the
preference-building process within nation-states, thus conceptualizing
the international arena as a second level where states bargain based on
their domestic preferences. States act in a “selfish” or “individualistic”
manner in the sense that they are looking only at their own gains and
losses. The point of reference for comparison, unlike in the relative-gains
approach, is not the other actors but the present state of affairs or poten-
tial outcomes from alternative courses of action. Power is based on eco-
nomic strength.

Modern concepts have never totally transformed the world and its
societies, but the modernity project has presented a radical alternative to
the premodern paradigm. What makes the present transformation con-
fusing and puzzling is the fact that we are witnessing simultaneously the
resurgence of premodern elements, the ongoing existence of modern con-
cepts, and the emergence of postmodern characteristics (see figure 1.1).

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, we are confronted with
novel ways of conceptualizing the world. A new ontology is emerging
that is pushing the concept of reality even more toward pluralism
and relativism. The French poststructuralists (Baudrillard, Derrida, and
Lyotard) have contended that our understandings of the world are
socially constructed. If our assumptions are inevitably shaped by our lan-
guage, which is also a product of social interaction and varies by culture,
there can exist no single objective reality. Furthermore, it is impossible
to ascertain the superiority of one reality over another (Gandy 1996).

The core of the new ontology is the notion of culture as socially con-
structed. Human behavior is seen neither as externally determined by
an anonymous environment nor as self-determined according to indi-
vidual preferences, but as codetermined by social interdependence and
interaction. The present variety and relativity of cultures, values, and
realities leads to a situation in which constructing and defining personal
identity, rather than adapting to the natural environment or producing

14 Blatter, Ingram, and Doughman

material goods, becomes the primary task for human beings. Many soci-
etal transformations have accompanied this emerging ontological base:
dematerialization of production (microelectronics and genetics as new
core technologies), a service- and information-based economy, the toler-
ance of various value sets based on the concept of multiculturalism, and
multiple, overlapping units for collective action and identification based
on various kinds of ties (territory, ethnicity, belief, taste, sex, among

These features and the relativistic ontology are reflected in the con-
structivist strand in international relations theory. When conceptualizing
the behavior of political actors, constructivists focus their attention on
normative-cognitive elements of that behavior such as the identities of
political actors, problem definitions, perceptions, communication, and
shared understanding. Power is based on network centrality and com-
munication skills (Kubalkova, Onuf, and Kowert 1998; Adler 1997).

Abundant evidence exists that all of these ontologies—despite their
contradictions—will be useful foundations for describing, explaining,
understanding and creating the present and future world (we will pro-
vide such evidence in the field of transboundary water policy in chapter

There are many intriguing questions about the relationship between
the various ontological bases and their corresponding worldviews. What
is the relationship between nature and culture? Many environmentalists
have brandished natural and cultural arguments simultaneously in their
fight against products of modern human megalomania. In fact, they
have conflated culture and nature by assuming that traditional cultures
embody the knowledge needed to coexist peacefully with the natural
environment. However, culture is now conceptualized as the shared nor-
mative-cognitive beliefs, or worldviews, of a social community, rather
than the accreted sediment of previous experience.

We can differentiate cultures based on local spaces (spaces of places)
and time past (experience, tradition), from cultures based on global
spaces (spaces of flows) and present and future times (discourses,
visions). Liberating culture conceptually from the past raises more ques-
tions: Can present discourses and visions about the future exist inde-
pendently of past experiences? Can cultural inventions overcome any
natural limits?

Emerging Approaches to Comprehend Changing Global Contexts 15

Confusingly, the equalization of nature and culture is also challenged
the other way around. As David Hughes shows in chapter 10, traditional
cultures can stand at odds with new ecosystem concepts like watershed
planning. In this example, the culture is bound to the past and the con-
cept that is based on a “natural” imperative is new. From this perspec-
tive we encounter an equally puzzling question: How much are natural
or ecological imperatives really based on objective realities and how
much are they creations of the human imagination? The idea of “bio-
regions” as primary territorial units for governmental planning and con-
trol, discussed in chapter 5 by Suzanne Levesque, is an example well
suited to discussion of this question.

An ability to tolerate ambiguity is requisite for individuals who live in
this complex world of multiple and contradictory realities, not to men-
tion researchers who try to understand and to explain these realities. The
basic goal of this book is to facilitate and encourage emerging ways of
thinking about transboundary water and natural resources. It is not that
such approaches are new or novel, but rather that they have been gener-
ally marginalized in the study of water policy. Perspectives once rele-
gated to the practice squad are, in this book, afforded significant playing

Emerging Approaches for Studying Transboundary Water Policy

The modern search for generalized rules and human control has led to
scholarship in which predictability, parsimony, and simplicity have been
the measure of academically acceptable approaches and methodologies.
These precepts have often led to single-disciplinary research on specific
and fairly narrow research topics. In the face of the increasing variety
and complexity of the world in which we live, in which many forces
are often interacting from different directions, singularity of focus and
false parsimony of theoretical concepts oversimplify to the point of being

Emerging approaches that encourage the introduction of various dis-
ciplinary perspectives and their differing methodologies are far more
useful in capturing variety and complexity. To capture the realities
described above, it is not necessary to integrate disciplines into interdis-
ciplinary systems analysis and other metatheoretical frameworks. More

16 Blatter, Ingram, and Doughman

insight often emerges from a panoply of studies, each of which delves
deeply into the aspects of problems using the disciplinary tools best
designed to examine the specific problem. Research in such approaches
is like a tapestry, each strand of which may be quite separate and distinct
but not really significant until it is combined with others into a whole
within which patterns emerge.

The most recent decade has witnessed the emergence of a number of
new theoretical approaches and methods useful for the study of water.
We will concentrate within this book on applications and extensions of
modern approaches in a more relativistic direction. Whereas the life sci-
ences have been widely accepted as a necessary supplement to the fields
of water and natural resources policy, no similar welcome has been ex-
tended to the social sciences and humanities. It is time to make prog-
ress in this direction as well. A second reason for such approaches has
been stated before: We believe that these approaches, which concentrate
on understanding the involved meanings of water, have to be the first
step in every progressive research project. This implies that there is no
definite connection between a specific meaning of water and a specific

The research methodologies introduced here—network analysis, dis-
course analysis, ethnographic and in-depth historical case studies, social
ecology, and the ways of knowing that these reflect—are only some of
the emerging analytical approaches to the study of water. Others, such
as participatory research, environmental mediation, and practical peace-
making, are becoming more important, have clear implications for
democratizing research, and directly link thought to action. The research
methods we have chosen to describe in this chapter, however, are the
ones reflected in the subsequent chapters of this book. These approaches
can enhance analytical and applied efforts to understand transboundary
water problems.

Game theory is not included in this book even though it is one of the
most sophisticated analytical tools in contemporary social science. Game
theory is an analytical advance in that it moves from action-based ontol-
ogy toward an interaction-based ontology. It uses the advanced modern
tool kit of mathematics. Although we acknowledge game theory’s poten-
tial for explaining many conflicts and outcomes in current cross-border
environmental politics, we believe it is not as helpful as the new ap-

Emerging Approaches to Comprehend Changing Global Contexts 17

proaches advanced here in the messy world in which we find ourselves.
The glocalized world is characterized by a multiplicity of actors and the
permanent construction and reconstruction of identities, boundaries,
and preferences of these actors. The “logic of consequentiality” (March
and Olson 1989) is less and less appropriate as a successful strategy in a
“debordered,” “hyperconnected,” and turbulent world.

An overview of the focus of each of these emerging analytical frame-
works is provided below.

Network Analysis
In many parts of the world, subnational actors are beginning to drift
away from their intranational moorings and embark on a more trans-
national pattern of activity. This shift, in conjunction with the omni-
presence of organized actors in policymaking, the overcrowding of
participatory arenas, the fragmentation of the state, and the blurring of
boundaries between the public and the private, has created an environ-
ment in which networks emerge as a policy-relevant analytical unit
(Kenis and Schneider 1991, 41; Mayntz 1993). Network analysis pro-
vides a framework and a set of techniques for studying relationships
within and across groups of social actors. It focuses on communication
patterns among individuals to understand the dynamics within and be-
tween groups and networks of people. The methodology of network
analysis identifies linkages and network boundaries, the understanding
of which is useful in explaining certain policy outcomes. Network anal-
ysis as an analytical tool has developed sophisticated formal methods.
Most network analysts base their approach on a rationalistic action the-
ory (strategic exchange of resources by interdependent actors). There
are also conceptualizations more relevant to this book that stress the
normative-cognitive factors that guide the clustering of political actors
in policy processes. Paul Sabatier’s “advocacy coalition frameworks”
(ACFs) and Ernst Haas’s “epistemic communities” are prominent exam-
ples of these more relevant conceptualizations. In Sabatier’s and Haas’s
approaches, shared beliefs, and not resource dependencies, are the cen-
tral focal points that bind actors together.

A central concept of ACFs is the “advocacy coalition,” which is “com-
posed of people from various government and private organizations who
both (a) share a set of normative and causal beliefs and (b) engage in a

18 Blatter, Ingram, and Doughman

non-trivial degree of coordinated activity over time” (i.e., seven to ten
years) within a particular policy subsystem (Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith
1999). Members of an advocacy coalition share beliefs on topics such
as human nature, prioritization of values (e.g., freedom, power, and
beauty), and justice.

Haas defines an “epistemic community” as “a specific community of
experts sharing a belief in a common set of cause-and-effect relationships
as well as common values to which policies governing these relationships
will be applied” (Haas 1989, 384). According to Haas, the primary
function of these epistemic communities is reducing uncertainty. These
networks of experts are able to find a common denominator with re-
spect to definition of problems and general strategies to solve these
problems in policy fields that are characterized by high complexity and

Discourse Analysis
Networks of people rely on a shared discursive framework to communi-
cate with each other. Embedded in each discursive framework is a set of
normative values and preferred modes of reaching agreement. Discourse
analysis elucidates how to identify the dominance of one way of know-
ing within a group of people in a policy environment. People sharing an
interest in solving a common problem often end up talking past each
other; discourse analysis facilitates understanding of why this occurs.
Discourse analysis facilitates a recognition that differences in frames of
reference, interpretations, and meaning are at the root of many mis-

Following the lead of such scholars as Habermas (1971) and Foucault
(1977), much recent scholarship has focused on the contents of commu-
nications and the ideas embedded in discourse. This kind of analysis rec-
ognizes that language and symbols determine how debate is framed,
what issues are placed on political agendas for discussion, and what
alternatives are likely to be viewed as viable. Much of this kind of anal-
ysis is explicitly critical and intends to be transformational.

Discourse analysis brings to ways of understanding (and shaping) our
world a recognition of the powerful role that the social construction
of meaning plays in our lives and communities. Postmodern discourse

Emerging Approaches to Comprehend Changing Global Contexts 19

analysis illuminates various competing systems of language or discourses
and allows us to talk about why some discourses (like those concerning
progress, technocratic rationality, and universal rights) are more con-
vincing and more authoritative than others.

Historical and Ethnographic Analysis
With the growing recognition that general laws, once held as the highest
goal of science, embody biases in their assumptions and hold for very
few actual human situations, researchers have returned with renewed
interest to deeply textured and carefully documented historical case
studies and ethnographic analysis. More than those that result from
other kinds of analysis, these studies allow people to speak directly
through personal diaries, oral histories, and family records as well as
through official documents that have long been the stock and trade of
historians. Careful historical documentation of land ownership patterns,
movement of peoples, and the development of superior/subordinate rela-
tionships among them help scholars understand, for example, why ani-
mosities persist, why practices that seem irrational continue, and why
some present-day conflicts are so difficult to resolve.

Historical and ethnographical analysis accords context a central place
in explanations and understandings of specific phenomena. A context of
rapid social and economic change provides different opportunities and
challenges than does one of stability. Definitions and social constructions
that take the form of immutable laws at some times and in some cultures
may be highly contested and in flux in others. Institutions as well as
peoples and nations have different cultures that affect processes and
actions but are not obvious unless practices are observed historically.

The creation of boundaries and the occurrence of cooperation and
conflict across them cannot be understood without specific, locally based
knowledge of identities, stereotypes, and social constructions of tribal,
racial, and ethnic groups, the roots of which may be best illuminated
through ethnographic and historical analyses. Approaches involving
these types of analyses are also able to identify which impulses are likely
to be acted upon in specific situations and which other attitudes cause
acquiescence to prevailing policy on the part of locally based tribal,
racial, and ethnic groups.

20 Blatter, Ingram, and Doughman

Social Ecology
Like discourse analysis, social ecology allows for and facilitates com-
munication across different ways of knowing. A number of authors in
this volume (Levesque, Doughman, DiMento, Garb, Ingram, Perry, and
Whiteley) are associated with the School of Social Ecology at the Univer-
sity of California at Irvine and reflect its perspectives in their work. Key
principles of social ecology are systems thinking, contextual research and
theory development, interdisciplinarity, and community problem solv-
ing. Consistent with this view, social ecology employs quantitative and
qualitative data analysis, both hypothesis testing and grounded theory
research approaches, reductionist and integrative design, and positivist
and postmodern discourses.

In all its manifestations, social ecology is rooted to place; social ecol-
ogists view the local, physical environment as an important component
of understanding and analyzing sociopolitical contexts. Social ecological
approaches often characterize human-environment interactions as two-
way or cyclical systems in which, for example, human action affects
environmental health and environmental health affects human health.
Part of this commitment to the local context stems from a belief that
academic research should facilitate understanding and amelioration of
recognizable and pressing social problems.

Organization of the Book

The chapter that follows in this first, introductory section of the book
continues the discussion begun in this chapter of the need for more
innovative and diverse frameworks and methodologies. In chapter 2, the
central subject is the inadequacy of standard legal, engineering, and eco-
nomic frameworks for capturing the value-laden and symbolic attributes
with which water is endowed at the end of the twentieth century. We
demonstrate that the “disembedded” modern conceptualizations of water
as product, as property, and as commodity have to be complemented by
notions of water, like “gift of nature,” “focal point for community build-
ing,” “security issue,” or “specific good,” that connect water to the nat-
ural and cultural environment. Our pointing to these meanings does not

Emerging Approaches to Comprehend Changing Global Contexts 21

reflect an intent to promote them as normatively superior but rather to
foster the acknowledgment of their very existence.

The subsequent eight chapters contain case studies that make different
use of the frameworks laid out in the introductory chapters. The first
case, discussed by María Rosa García-Acevedo in chapter 3, fulfills the
goal established in this chapter of understanding the meaning(s) of water
in specific contexts. García-Acevedo traces a broad range of meanings of
water as they emerged chronologically, thereby laying the groundwork
for more specific studies. In contrast to her more comprehensive treat-
ment, other case studies throughout the book highlight one or two mean-
ings of water. Whereas García-Acevedo’s chapter shows mainly the
change from premodern to modern meanings of water, the subsequent
two chapters clearly show the growing importance of postmodern phe-
nomena in transboundary water politics. Joachim Blatter and Suzanne
Levesque show, in chapters 4 and 5, the importance of cross-border
advocacy coalitions based on shared belief systems and postnational
ideas of governance in Europe and North America. Blatter openly demon-
strates the superiority of an interpretative approach to explain cross-
border water policy over functionalistic and rationalistic approaches.
Levesque supports the postmodernist perspective in her concentration
on transboundary networks based on socially constructed meanings of

The next two pairs of case studies challenge Blatter’s and Levesque’s
postmodernist approaches on two different levels: The first two, by
Sullivan (chapter 6) and Doughman (chapter 7), use the postmodern
tools of discourse analysis but take issue with the optimism and pro-
gressivism of the case studies in chapters 4 and 5. The second two, by
Garb and Whiteley (chapter 8) and DiMento (chapter 9), challenge post-
modernism by insisting that modern approaches are still quite useful in
many parts of the world, at least insofar as capturing the fundamentals
of a particular case are concerned. The postmodern influences in these
two cases appear significant but marginal. The case study presented by
David Hughes in chapter 10 is included as the closing case study because
it makes comprehensive use of the overall framework and thus parallels
the opening case study in chapter 3. At the same time, it shares much of

22 Blatter, Ingram, and Doughman

the skepticism of the two case studies that precede it. Hughes’s case
study demonstrates very impressively that different meanings of water
can coexist at the same time, in contrast to the more evolutionary
description in chapter 3. Moreover, chapter 10 provides us with the
opportunity to debate a fundamental challenge to the usefulness of an
analytical framework based on Western modernization theory in the
concluding sections of the book, chapters 11 and 12, by Perry, Blatter,
and Ingram.

Summary of Chapters

Chapter 2, by Joachim Blatter, Helen Ingram, and Suzanne Levesque,
catalogues in detail the very diverse and symbol-laden meanings of water
that have emerged at the beginning of the new millenium. The chap-
ter broadens from narrow modernist constructions of water as prop-
erty, product, and commodity to include older, premodern meanings of
water as a gift of nature as well as more recently emergent postmodern

In her case study entitled “The Confluence of Water, Patterns of
Settlement, and Constructions of the Border in the Imperial and Mexicali
Valleys (1900–1999)”, María Rosa García-Acevedo discusses the ways
water, the nature of boundary and settlement patterns, and the culture
and livelihood of people are related. Through contextual historical
analysis that relies on sources written in Spanish as well as English, the
author identifies the changing meaning of water as a central variable.
The chapter recounts the dispersion and marginalization of indigenous
peoples; the uneven agricultural development of valleys on either side of
the national dividing line between Mexico and the United States that
otherwise appear potentially equally productive; and the lopsided pat-
tern of industrialization that currently undergirds the population explo-
sion in this arid area. The varying roles of national governments, settlers’
groups, and commercial entrepreneurs are traced through time. Distinct
differences among winners and losers in terms of control over and access
to water and water quality are identified. García-Acevedo concludes that
the capture of the definition and meaning of water is a highly political
and value-laden process.

Emerging Approaches to Comprehend Changing Global Contexts 23

A focus upon transnational networks, particularly advocacy coali-
tions, ties chapter 3, by Joachim Blatter, entitled “Lessons from Lake
Constance: Institutions, Ideas, and Advocacy Coalitions,” to the chapter
that follows it. Lake Constance represents one of the most successful
cross-border water protection regimes in the world. To obtain a better
understanding of the preconditions of this success, Blatter conducts an
in-depth study focusing on the regulation of motorboats on the lake. His
findings demonstrate that when modern explanations for analyzing reg-
ulations fail, only a recourse to history and discourse provides basic
insights into policy preferences and outcomes related to motorized boat-
ing on the lake. Blatter further demonstrates that territorial aggregation
of interests and a nation-state-centered approach no longer capture the
reality of transboundary politics as it occurs on the Lake. Finally, Blatter’s
case study shows an interesting complementarity between the formal
international commissions and the informal cross-border regional net-
works that have emerged as responses to the continental integration pro-
cess in Europe.

Chapter 5, “The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative: Re-
constructing Boundaries, Biodiversity, and Beliefs,” by Suzanne Lorton
Levesque, presents an analysis of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conserva-
tion Initiative (Y2Y), a transnational grassroots environmental network
that has emerged and is attempting to influence environmental decision
processes in the binational region embodied in its name. In this region
socioeconomic structures and environmental perspectives are changing
rapidly. New actors are emerging to challenge historic constructions of
nature and resources and to demand a voice in environmental decisions.
Levesque focuses on Y2Y’s extensive use of information and communi-
cation technologies to create a nature-centered discourse, to inform and
broaden the network, to achieve consensus on problem definitions and
strategy preferences, to elicit broad-based support from the public,
and to pressure government and economic decision makers.

Chapter 6, “Discursive Practices and Competing Discourses in the
Governance of Wild North American Pacific Salmon Resources,” by
Kate Sullivan, concentrates on public-sphere discourse regarding water
and fisheries. Using the case of the Pacific Salmon Treaty, Sullivan exam-
ines the print-mediated public debates over the governance of wild North

24 Blatter, Ingram, and Doughman

American Pacific salmon resources in British Columbia and Washington.
Complexly interlaced discourses about biological sustainability and eco-
nomic rationality stimulate vigorous debates over economic equity, allo-
cation, conservation, and resource uses. The chapter considers the role
of the media, technocratic-rational language, and the groundswell of
grassroots coalitions of stakeholders in the discursive practices and fram-
ing discourses mobilized in the very contentious and high profile United
States–Canadian Pacific Salmon Treaty negotiations. The chapter reveals
that language and conceptual frameworks have very concrete material
outcomes for both economic well-being and environmental health.

In chapter 7, “Discourses and Water in the U.S.-Mexico Border
Region,” Pam Doughman employs discourse analysis in a very different
way from the preceding chapter. Doughman critically examines the dis-
course used in the formal documents and informal debates and commu-
nications of two new institutions involved in managing water resources
in the U.S.-Mexico border region, the North American Development
Bank (NADBank) and the Border Environment Cooperation Commis-
sion (BECC). These institutions were established under one of the envi-
ronmental side agreements of the North American Free Trade Agreement
as a means of increasing procedural democracy in transboundary water
management. Like Sullivan, Doughman is interested in the extent to
which public-sphere discourse is inclusive and representative of citizens’
points of view. In her chapter, Doughman asks whether the institutional
perspective of the NADBank and BECC differs significantly, in terms of
inclusiveness and representation, from the managerialist perspective that
dominates the International Boundary and Water Commission.

Chapter 8, “A Hydroelectric Power Complex on Both Sides of a War:
Potential Weapon or Peace Incentive?” by Paula Garb and John White-
ley, discusses the joint management of a hydroelectric power plant by
two warring parties in the South Caucasus. In the 1970s, the plant was
built on both sides of the Inguri River in the former Soviet republic of
Georgia. No one could have predicted then that the power plant might
someday be situated on two sides of a disputed border policed by inter-
national forces. In 1992–93, when war was being waged between the
newly independent Georgian government and the separatist government
of the former autonomous republic of Abkhazia within Georgia, both

Emerging Approaches to Comprehend Changing Global Contexts 25

sides depended on electricity from the Inguri plant, and neither side
could run the power plant without cooperation from the other side. The
only way to keep the plant operating and electricity generating was for
the governments to agree on the terms of joint management and financ-
ing, even though they could not agree on the terms of a peace settlement.
The chapter provides insights into the factors that have facilitated co-
operation between the leadership of the respective energy agencies and
between the plant employees on both sides of the dispute.

The findings of Joe DiMento in chapter 9, “Black Sea Environmental
Management: Prospects for New Paradigms in Transnational Contexts,”
present a complementary focus on the supranational regimes that insti-
gate the subnational networks revealed as so important in the Blatter
study. In this chapter DiMento sets forth the history of the Black Sea
Environmental Program, which focuses on the need to address monu-
mental social, political, and environmental problems after the collapse of
the Soviet Union. Formal international organizations such as the United
Nations Environmental Program and the Global Environmental Facility
are the catalyst for the creation of a faltering but nonetheless important
effort at international cooperation in an area where nations are distinctly
different and have many reasons for conflict. Characteristic of social
ecology research, DiMento weaves physical description of the state of
the endangered Black Sea through legal and social commentary.

Chapter 10, “Water as a Boundary: National Parks, Rivers and the
Politics of Demarcation in Chimanimani, Zimbabwe,” by David
Hughes, is an in-depth, place-based case study concerned with the erec-
tion of water-related borders within regions. Hughes focuses on territo-
rial conflict related to “linear” water-marking property lines, which has
a very different meaning from the number of more volumetric definitions
explored in the Imperial/Mexicali Valleys case. Hughes maintains that
water is inseparable from land and the patterns of property and author-
ity that govern land. His chapter explores the interdependency of water
and territory in the context of a long-running dispute over the border of
the Chimanimani National Park in eastern Zimbabwe.

The two final chapters in this book mirror the two introductory chap-
ters. Having started with the general transformations toward a glocal-
ized world and their implications for the analysis of transboundary water

26 Blatter, Ingram, and Doughman

policy, we end with an attempt to transfer the lessons learned from new
investigations into transboundary water politics toward more general
considerations of the future of governance and social science.

Before we return to our starting point, however, Richard Perry, in
chapter 11, “Perspectives from the Districts of Water and Power: A
Report on Flows,” turns the thesis of the book on its head. The intro-
ductory section of the book maintains that in the contemporary global-
ized world, transboundary water policy requires new forms of analysis
that go beyond modernist frames of thought: engineering, law, and eco-
nomics. Perry argues that water itself is a good way to think about pres-
ent global transformations. He traces how water and the emergence
of the nation-state were inextricably intertwined and demonstrates how
the image of flowing water aptly captures the contemporary fluidity of
capital and power. Perry exemplifies the way in which discursive framing
enhances comprehension. Perry employs water symbols and images to
create an understanding of both historic and present practices that could
not be captured in a more technical or modernist language.

Finally, in chapter 12, “Lessons from the Spaces of Unbound Water
for Research and Governance in a Glocalized World,” Perry, Blatter, and
Ingram revisit the eight case studies in chapters 3–10, drawing conclu-
sions about them based on the theoretical framework developed in the
first two chapters. They demonstrate the usefulness of the general frame-
work presented in chapters 1 and 2, but not without self-reflection and
self-criticism. Such conscious self-criticism is, in our view, essential for
present-day transboundary water researchers. Much of the previous
modern research we wish to augment has been flawed by the imperial-
ism of Western modes of thought to which it is easy to fall prey.
Therefore, it is appropriate to conclude with a discussion that challenges
the theoretical and methodological underpinnings of the book. This
should not be interpreted as a signal of the authors’ weakness or lack of
belief in the usefulness of this endeavor. Rather, we are simply taking
to heart a central tenet of the book: the current transformational state
of the world demands self-conscious reflection about the fundamental
ontological and epistemological bases of our approaches to govern, to
manage, and to study all critical issues, most especially water.

Emerging Approaches to Comprehend Changing Global Contexts 27


1. Giddens (1990) has labeled this process “disembedding.”
2. Neyer (1995, 69) cites management authority Peter F. Drucker: “In the world
economy of today, the ‘real’ economy of goods and services and the ‘symbol’
economy of money, credit and capital are no longer bound tightly to each other;
they are, indeed, moving further and further apart.”
3. Because most modern “nation-states” comprise many nations defined as eth-
nically homogeneous groups, this kind of new “postmodern” nationalism is tar-
geted against the modern nation-state (Barber 1995, 165).
4. Note that we are not advocating these new ontologies because we think that
the world is necessarily improved by these transformations, but because we think
they are necessary to understand the present and future world. Better under-
standing is a necessary but not a sufficient precondition for better practice.


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Expanding Perspectives on Transboundary

Joachim Blatter, Helen Ingram, and Suzanne Lorton Levesque

The intention of this chapter is to contribute to an amplified, robust, and
flexible understanding of the meaning of water. Inevitably, previous
scholarly work on transboundary water resources has been strongly
influenced by the dominant features of the modern world. Woven into
the very fabric of our existence has been an unflagging conviction that
the mysteries of the universe could be unraveled through human intelli-
gence. Vagaries of nature, such as water and the droughts and floods
associated with it, could be subdued and harnessed for the benefit of
humankind. The companion modern view of society has been that
human management of water resources could be rationalized and con-
trolled through laws, institutions, and organizational structures.

The fluidity of water—its unpredictability, variability, and resistance
to control—makes it an appropriate metaphor for the inability of mod-
ern convictions and perspectives to capture the unstable and fluctuating
world. The transformation of key elements of the modern era, including
the present process of glocalization, is mirrored in the changing images
of water. Discerning such changes is important, not just because it is in-
structive for many other issue areas, but also because water is essential
to nature and to society.

This chapter will briefly discuss how emerging approaches are adding
to, and partially displacing, previously dominant modern approaches
that were too narrow and too bound to specific ontologies. It will then
move on to discuss how the meanings of water imposed by the three
ascendant modern disciplines in the study of water resources—law, engi-
neering, and economics—have been modified and transformed. Finally,
it will offer a preview of the meanings of water that will emerge in the
case studies that follow this chapter.

32 Blatter, Ingram, and Levesque

Expanding Approaches

Lawyers have defined water as a property of territorial units; in the case
of transboundary watercourses, of nation-states. Engineers have treated
water as a natural resource transformable into products for human con-
sumption. From an economist’s perspective, water is a commodity that
can be exchanged and traded between various places and various uses.

Although the transition from premodern to modern perspectives has
changed the core assumption of our thinking about water from adapta-
tion to nature to control of nature, the dominance of law, engineering,
and economics ensured a narrow, bounded set of meanings of water. The
present transformation is characterized by expanded meanings and defi-
nitions of water beyond these narrow, bounded meanings. The modern
(individualistic, rational, and utilitarian) perception of water must be
complemented by other understandings of water. These expanded con-
ceptions of water point in two directions (see figure 2.1): First, a renewed
awareness of natural imperatives results from insights from the life sci-
ences, especially from research on ecosystems. Second, a new recognition
arises that the meanings of water are multiple and bound to various cul-
tures. This social constructivist perspective is based primarily on insights
and discussions in the humanities.

Even though both directions share emphases on interdependence, con-
nectedness, linkages, and context, as opposed to the starkly dichotomous
contrast between the premodern (structure) and modern (agency) per-
spectives, they are antagonistic in their ontological and epistemological
bases. Whereas the life sciences assume there exists one “real” world that
can be discovered and “explained,” the humanities adopt a relativistic
worldview and instead attempt to “understand” the various worlds
within their specific contexts. Both challenge the belief in human control
of water that has been so central to the modern era, but the types of chal-
lenges each poses are quite different.

The life sciences remind us that water is bound to a territorial (or nat-
ural) context, meaning that water cannot be easily appropriated to terri-
torial units with sharp demarcations (spaces of place, like states) because
its bonds to territory follow a different geography (spaces of flows, like
habitats of salmon). Further, they assert that water cannot be totally

Expanding Perspectives on Transboundary Water 33

Figure 2.1
Expanding the variety of scientific approaches
controlled, citing the devastating results of many attempts to do so.
Finally they show that water cannot be treated as a commensurable com-
modity because the transfer of water may have serious consequences for
both its places of origin and its destination. The ecosystem approach
believes that there are objective limitations to human activity, as natural
laws resist manipulation.

By noting that water is bound to various cultures, the constructivist
approach of the humanities challenges the modern approaches in a much
different fashion. Together with the emerging insight that the sovereign,
territorially defined nation-state is historically contingent and that other,
nonterritorial units of governance are possible, this approach questions
the modern canard that territorial units (states) are the only units of ref-
erence in the appropriation game. It further highlights the idea that
water cannot be treated only as an external product; it is also an essen-
tial component of the creation of identities of traditional and new com-
munities. Finally, seen from this perspective, the various meanings and

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